Interview with Tower of Turtles Production Company
These guys are the makers of the Jim Butcher Fan Films Night Light, Red Sun, and upcoming web series the Lightbringer Saga
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today are a large part of the production team of Towers of Turtles, the production company responsible for the Jim Butcher fan films, Night Light, and Red Sun, a feature length Harry Dresden film currently in production. Welcome, folks. Could you please introduce yourself for our viewers? Amy?
Amy Gruss: Sure. I am Amy Gruss. I am the Assistant Director, also Location Scout, Craft Services, Den Mother, as our Director said the other night, his brain apparently, which is terrifying. And I am also fortunate enough to introduce a new character, an original character for this. Her name is Ruth Scikolski [SP], nickname is Oracle, and she is a handy Paranet hub for some of the goings on in our upcoming project.
Rae Dawson: I’m Rae Dawson, I’m 2nd AD, or cat herder, and I play Molly Carpenter in both the Night Light film and Red Sun.
Landon Solomon: I am Landon Solomon, I the hell am Harry.
JMW: And if anything goes wrong with this video, we blame him, yes.
Landon Solomon: I do some prop work, and help out in whatever way I can. But mostly I put on the boots and I wear the coat.
Suzie Solomon: I’m Suzie Solomon. I am Writer and Producer and I play Karrin Murphy.
Jordan Murphy: I’m Jordan Murphy, and I’m Art Director.
JMW: And queen of the props.
Jordan Murphy: Queen of the props, I like that.
JMW: Yeah, queen of the props with the really awesome red court vampire.
Suzie Solomon: Oh, we should have brought the head.
JMW: Well, with any luck I’ll be able to use it on the closing credits, because I did get a picture of it while I was there.
Jordan Murphy: Yeah. So stuff like that is what I do.
Suzie Solomon: Well, Bill usually tells this story, but we’re missing our esteemed Director tonight.
Amy Gruss: So we can blame him?
Suzie Solomon: So we’ll blame him.
Amy Gruss: Okay.
Suzie Solomon: But he started out wanting to do a film company and he thought, “I’ve got this great, token template, epic fantasy idea,” and he cast us all in it. We out into the woods and we started filming, and there were airplanes, and there were telephone poles, and there were sirens. He thought, “You know what? This is hard,” but he really wanted to learn how to do magical effects. So he thought, “I need to do magical effects in a setting where it’s okay to have airplanes and telephone poles,” which means urban fantasy. He knew that Landon and I had been cosplaying Harry and Murphy at Dragon Con for years. And he said “You two.” And he told me, “Write me a short little 15-minute short — Harry and Murphy talking in a hotel room or something like that.” When we were about done with the film, people started asking, “So when’s the next one coming out?” We said, “What next one?”
Amy Gruss: And that’s when Bill looked at Suzie and said, “All right, so next let’s do a summer popcorn action flick.” Write like budget was not a concern.
Landon Solomon: “Don’t worry about the plot, just forget it. We’ll drive trucks through all the holes, but we’re going to blow stuff up.”
Amy Gruss: “And it’s just going to look really cool, and be really fun.”
Landon Solomon: And then she ruined it.
Amy Gruss: Yeah. Okay so there was a plot, and pathos [inaudible 00:04:05], and all those kinds of other… ya.
JMW: And dialog and everything?
Rae Dawson: I know, man.
Suzie Solomon: I also had help. I outlined for months, and then finally I thought no I’ve got to get this thing on paper. I put myself in a hotel room for two nights and three days, and did not come out until I had a finished script — sort of finished script — and gave it to Bill and to Amy with sections in red for each of them. And there was like, “Bill, insert fight here. Amy, insert Alpha stuff here. Bill, more fight here. Bill, insert nightmare here.” So if it’s really dark and heart wrenching, Bill probably wrote it. And if it’s hilarious and Alpha-y, Amy wrote it.
JMW: It seems like a huge undertaking. How did you cast it? How did you manage to create the effects? What kind of equipment are you using?
Suzie Solomon: I can speak to casting.
Rae Dawson: Well, yeah.
JMW: Go ahead.
Suzie Solomon: We pretty much cast everything by having our friends from… we’re all either related to or affiliated or performers at Scarborough Fair. And when Bill started doing this–
JMW: Scarborough Fair is what?
Suzie Solomon: A Renaissance Festival in Texas. I’m sorry.
Amy Gruss: Yeah, we’re Nerd Corp. We had strong cred.
Jordan Murphy: And I went there all my life. I never worked there, but all my life.
JMW: So you were exposed to the virus at an early age?
Suzie Solomon: Not letting go of her.
Rae Dawson: Never, never, ever.
JMW: Not letting go of the Queen of the Props, yeah.
Jordan Murphy: One of those cats that show up at a door step you feed it and it stays.
JMW: Yeah, yeah.
Amy Gruss: She’s lying, we licked her.
Suzie Solomon: Mostly people would ask us, we’d get two people out with a camera, and people were like, “What are you doing?” We’re like, “Oh we’re making a movie.” They’d be like, “Can I be in it?” We’re like, “Yes.” For, I think, about 75% to 80% of Dresden was people saying, “Can I be in it,” and us saying, “Yes, you look like so and so, come on in.” Then the movie got bigger. One of the exceptions is Rae, and of course us, because Bill told us, “You are doing Harry and Murphy.” We’re like “And we need a Molly.” And we cast Amy as well. So a couple of the core cast members we went, “You be this.” But mostly people would say, “Is there a part in it for me?” We’d be like, “There will be in a minute.”
Rae Dawson: That’s why it’s so big.
Suzie Solomon: And that’s why we had a casting crew of 56 people.
Amy Gruss: It has been a really different experience, because a lot of that group…like we said we had stage trained, and especially street theater actors. Bringing them over or ourselves over into working on film has been really cool. Having that many improvisationally trained people means that we can guarantee some outtakes, and behind-the-scenes.
Landon Solomon: The cats have got to be herded carefully.
Amy Gruss: Yeah.
JMW: Your job, Rae.
Amy Gruss: Yeah, and then the AD runs the set. So that’s when I get to be the crabby old lady to go, “All right, shut it, we’ve got to get to work.”
Rae Dawson: Except when she’s filming and then I get to be the crabby old lady.
Amy Gruss: Yes, and I say, “Please take over. Tag out crabby old lady. Only if you’re not as crabby.”
Rae Dawson: Oh, shut up.
Suzie Solomon: And you’d just step in for her at one time she’s like, “I’m in this one. Can you be me for a little while?” I’m like, “I don’t think so.” I tried. I’m like, “Oh, this is hard. No. Please be Amy again.”
Rae Dawson: You damn actors. Joe listen.
Suzie Solomon: It’s true.
Amy Gruss: So that was our casting question in terms of…I was going to say…Bill really is the expert in terms of the equipment but all I know is he got … after we did Night Light, he was motivated to get new equipment, and he brought…I could tell you I would make up what kind it is, I know it is new, shiny and–
Jordan Murphy: It’s a lot of letters–
Amy Gruss: I was going to say…but it is broadcast quality, so basically we could hook up to do an HD Live News Broadcast.
JMW: Well, I noticed a different in the sound quality.
Suzie Solomon: That, too.
JMW: Between Night Light last year, and Red Sun trailer this year.
Amy Gruss: Yeah, we have a boom operator.
Landon Solomon: Yes.
Suzie Solomon: Right.
Amy Gruss: Shae Watts [SP] is fantastic with that, too.
Suzie Solomon: And she has a new boom, too. We had her on Night Light as well but her equipment was uhm–
Suzie Solomon: Yes, and so we upgraded her, or somebody upgraded her, I don’t know.
Amy Gruss: Lots of upgrades happened.
JMW: Okay, so let’s spend too much time there because we do have somebody who can answer the question about the effects.
Jordan Murphy: Yes.
Jordan Murphy: I can answer most of them. We tried to do as much as we can practically because Bill likes to look at it, and it always looks better than what you can do in special effects especially on a tight budget. So like the Red Court Vampire mask, we did that practically.
JMW: And you’ve also done Bob?
Jordan Murphy: We didn’t do Bob.
Landon Solomon: Chris Uhl.
Jordan Murphy: Yeah, he–
Suzie Solomon: Oh, the new Bob.
Landon Solomon: The new Bob, yeah.
Rae Dawson: The new Bob, new Bob.
Jordan Murphy: Yeah.
JMW: Well, I haven’t seen new Bob yet.
Landon Solomon: We did old Bob as well.
Suzie Solomon: But that’s before Chris is very protective of new Bob.
Landon Solomon: Yes.
Suzie Solomon: And he doesn’t want it shown off before it is debuted.
Landon Solomon: Yes.
JMW: So that’s why it wasn’t in the trailer.
Jordan Murphy: I’m not going to say that.
Amy Gruss: But Chris has…it’s a lot of puppeteer sort of situation, so even our Bob there is…you have an actor sensibility behind it, which I think adds another layer to what we’re doing and–
Landon Solomon: Yeah, when I’m talking to Bob, I’m honest to goodness talking to Bob.
Suzie Solomon: Yeah, in a Muppet-like situation.
Landon Solomon: There we go.
Suzie Solomon: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
JMW: Well, that works because I confess, the show that shall remain nameless, I thought Bob should have been a skull, yes.
Jordan Murphy: An impervious skull.
Jordan Murphy: You didn’t put that out.
Suzie Solomon: If you’ve seen the unreleased or I don’t know how you would have–
Landon Solomon: Pilot.
Suzie Solomon: No it’s an unreleased pilot. They had a Bob that was just a skull sitting there, and they would try to make the light flash along with the voice, and it’s just Terrence Mann is just so much better in physical face form that I get why they did it.
JMW: Yeah. Has Jim seen Night Light and the trailers for Red Sun?
Suzie Solomon: Yes, and no. He’s seen Night Light about three times at various Cons, and he has seen the teaser for Red Sun but not the trailer that we debuted yesterday yet. We’re going to show that to him in a couple of weeks.
JMW: Directly after this filming, right?
Jordan Murphy: Yes.
JMW: Nervous much? But he liked Night Light a lot, as I recall, so you probably don’t have much to worry about.
Suzie Solomon: Things go boom, I think we’ll be fine.
JMW: Yeah, I think so. Can you give our viewers a little bit of a teaser for Red Sun? Tell them when it takes place in the Harry Dresden canon, that sort of stuff?
Amy Gruss: Right. So our timeline?
Suzie Solomon: One month before Turn Coat.
Amy Gruss: Right. This one we’re really dealing with the threads of the…after what happened with Camp Kaboom, and we’re seeing the reflection of when you go to war, and the impact on the warden. So Harry, Carlos, and to some extent even Wild Bill, dealing with the true PTSD, and what happens. We’ve got some event in Red Sun that definitely trigger and tie directly into those really horrific events, and bring all of this up with him again. So as they’re having to deal with all the stuff, big battle story [inaudible 00:11:37] they are working their way through those traumas as well. So we see a lot of emotional impact.
JMW: Where can your fans find Night Light and when it’s posted, Red Sun, or the trailer for Red Sun?
Amy Gruss: We’re everywhere. We’ve got the Tower of Turtles website which links through to Facebook pages for both Night Light and Red Sun. We have a YouTube channel as well. And that’s where we also have some of our…the fun shorts that we’ve done, some of the Will Borden, Billy Blog videos and some other fun stuff like that as well.
JMW: Oh cool.
Suzie Solomon: Vimeo for people who are international.
Amy Gruss: Yeah.
JMW: Is there anything you’d like to add? I know at least two things I hope you’re going to talk about. One of them being Indiegogo, and the other being another project on the horizon.
Amy Gruss: Yeah, we’re going for round two of our Indiegogo campaign. The first one went pretty well. There was definitely a learning curve, and also Jordan’s got some other really cool swag that we could do for giveaways.
Rae Dawson: Yeah.
Jordan Murphy: Some returns and some new ones.
Amy Gruss: Yeah. So that’ll be coming up soon. This is also our segue working in the urban fantasy genre because the original epic fantasy series that we had…well, Rae had a genius idea of how to take that footage and those characters, and bring them over into urban fantasy so we’re going to be taking…the Lightbringer Saga is going to be an upcoming web series.
JMW: The Lightbringer being the epic fantasy?
Amy Gruss: Yes, new villain.
JMW: Yeah. She’s not…yeah I can tell. The grin. You want to be evil, don’t you?
Rae Dawson: It’s evil.I get to eat souls.
JMW: Oh, that’s good. Are they crunchy or soft and gooey?
Rae Dawson: Depends on the flavor.
JMW: Well I’m sure everyone is going to be looking forward to that. Thank you all for coming and talking to me today, and thank you for BuzzyMag.com.
Interviewed by Jean Marie Ward
Find, like, and fund the creators of Jim Butcher Fan Films
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.